Monday, December 21, 2009

Monkey magic

The Gibbon Experience allows homo sapiens to live like the gibbons they’ve come to spot in tree houses in the Bokeo Forest Reserve. Seven tree houses have been built high up in the canopy in a reserve, three hours from the Thai border at Houey Xai.
Our tree house was 45m above ground with three levels spread across the embracing branches of an enormous and beautiful fig tree. Our height meant we had a bird’s eye view of the jungle canopy that stretched out below us and three zip lines in and out of our new home. On the upper level was the honeymoon suite, on the second level, the zip lining entrances, kitchen, dining room and hammock look out and on the ‘basement’ level were two other bedrooms and the bathroom. The squat toilet and slatted shower floor meant you could watch the waterworks plummet to the ground and ponder the time it took for the moment of impact to be heard.
The Laotian Black Crested Gibbon (concolor concolor lu) is endangered due to habitat loss and hunting. In Laos the gibbon only lives in a small area bordering Thailand and Burma. The Gibbon Experience helps preserve their habitat by encouraging tourism that demands live sightings and paying for park security.
The gibbon sings like a diva (the male more so than the female) in the mornings only in a melodic, swooping tune that has an underwater tone to it. At 5.30am we got up and watched the mist roll back across the trees. We zip lined across the valley floor and started hiking up at calf muscle-killing speed to bamboo thicket where we occasionally stopped for breath to listen in on jungle sounds. Initially all we could hear was the thumping of our hearts as we strode up steep slopes. Our guide heard the first sounds and we raced through the bracken and came to a stop. Then, all of a sudden, the tuneful whooping began and as it continued it crescendoed, dropped and crescendoed, dropped and crescendoed. A troop of singing gibbons heralded the new morning: it was beautiful, clear and filled the valley as it echoed around us.

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